The first day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916 - the bloodiest day in British military history - deserves a detailed portrayal on film. Unfortunately, The Trench is not that film. The Trench is a standard "small group" portrayal of a British infantry platoon in the forward trenches during the three days leading up to the British attack. As films in the war genre go, this film is not very original and even hackneyed at times. Indeed, the film's ending is reminiscent of Gallipoli with Mel Gibson, although not as well done. The film also has basic problems with character development, plot evolution and historical background. Overall, this film is passable if you have a great interest in the First World War (but you will likely be let down) but quite boring and even incomprehensible if you do not.
Unfortunately, the director of The Trench did not feel that character development is particularly important and the viewer is presented with a bunch of stock characters that never gain much definition. The main characters (by type) are: the young, rookie private; the older, experienced sergeant; the weak lieutenant; the disgruntled soldier; the jerk; and the fat, optimistic soldier. The viewer learns precious little about these characters, other than that they generally interact poorly with each other. Indeed, there is very little indication of friendship, cooperation or comradeship that make a real military unit work. It would have been nice to get some background on where these troops come from and how much combat experience they had, but the director almost presents them as ciphers. One of the more interesting aspects of the Battle of the Somme was the character of the British "Pals" battalions, formed from tight social groups like rugby teams or clerks back in England. A "Pals" battalion would have been much more interesting than this near-dysfunctional team.
The plot is also a major problem with The Trench because there is so little of it. Most of the film focuses on the 72 hours prior to the attack and is thus anticipatory in nature. While there is one small night raid into No Mans Land, a brief artillery bombardment and a sniper attack, much of the film is quite slow. Indeed, the director wastes an incredible amount of time on two ridiculous but inter-related subjects: a stolen pornographic postcard and the young private mooning over an Irish waitress whom he met briefly before shipping out. Clearly, the director has no idea how to sequence a dramatic film and he appears to stuff anything handy - however absurd - into the cracks. Furthermore, the director is unable to bring out the kind of tension that exists prior to a big attack - which Gallipoli did so well.
Even the "big" attack at the end is a major disappointment. A&E's "Lost Battalion" last year had for more convincing scenes of trench warfare than "The Trench's" limp attack at the end. We see perhaps 50-60 troops marching across a green meadow that lacks a single shell crater, uphill (!), against a German line that seems to consist of a single row of barbed wire. Apparently, there wasn't much budget for extras, location or special effects. Given that this was the largest single attack ever launched by the British Army, this film's depiction of it appears to minimize a great and tragic event. Instead of seeing rows of British troops mowed down (and like Spielberg's Private Ryan, this film should have made some effort to show what the attack looked like from the German side), we see individuals go down.